Marc Ambinder channels the White House’s view of the supercommittee’s all-but-certain failure, and explains why Obama avoided taking a hands on role:
President Obama would have preferred the super committee produce a bipartisan deal, but what remains is not so bad: the prospect of up to $6 trillion in debt reduction if Congress does nothing, and the certainty of sharply defined election-year contrasts with Republicans.
Obama has done nothing to encourage a deal. Indeed, from the beginning, after he agreed to accept the super committee formula in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, he has kept his hands clean. Obama’s political advisers consider the debt-ceiling fight last summer a transcendent moment in American politics, and not in a good way.
Having allowed Congress to fail on its own, Obama is not about to take the reins of a process that could further erode voter confidence in him. He laid out his preferences in September, officials said. They include a $1.5 trillion tax hike, mostly on the wealthy, some cuts to entitlements and domestic spending, and a $1 trillion reduction in defense spending.
Obama plans to lay the failure at the feet of Republicans, who, he will say, were constitutionally incapable of raising taxes on wealthy Americans. This sets the stage for an election-year debate about the Bush-era tax cuts for the top two income brackets.
Another way to put it: This time, Obama avoided the trap Republicans laid for him — the very same trap he stepped in during the debt ceiling debacle.
Look: Republicans never had any intention of agreeing to a deficit reduction deal Obama could ever have supported. The differences between Republicans and Obama on deficit reduction are unbridgeable. One side (Republicans) has proven intent throughout on making a permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts a condition for any deal. The other side (Obama) sees the expiration of the Bush tax cuts as essential to peserving the country’s future, and is planning to stake his reelection partly on the contrast of visions that flows from the battle over them.
Republicans have been hammering Obama to get more involved in the process almost daily, claiming he has failed to show leadership; Mitt Romney amplified that point yet again today. But Obama seems to have figured out that allowing himself to be drawn into the process would have been a sucker’s game.
Either Obama and Dems would have had to accept a deal that involved near-total capitulation by them, making Obama look weak and further angering his base. Or, if Obama had gotten more directly involved and the supercommittee failed, he would have ended up more directly associated with the profound dysfunction of Congress, whose numbers are at record lows. That would have reprised the dynamic of the health and debt ceiling fights — spattering Obama with Congressional mud — and would have complicated his reelection strategy of running against Congress and its failure to act on the economy.
At any rate, the White House seems to be preparing to use the supercommittee failure to continue aggressively contrasting the priorities of the two parties and hammering Republicans as protectors of the rich above all else. That wouldn’t have been as easy to do if Obama had taken the GOP’s bait and gotten drawn into the supercommittee muck, as Republicans clearly hoped he would.